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This chapter starts with a definition of the term ‘referendum’. A referendum is a means of involving the public in political decisions via voting on specific issues such as leaving the European Union. The chapter focuses on the use of referendums at the local level. It sets out the key features of a referendum. Who is allowed to vote in referendums? What sort of questions are put to voters? Under want circumstances should a referendum take place on specific issues? What are the risks associated with holding a referendum? The chapter also looks at regulations surrounding referendums in the UK. The theoretical considerations that the chapter examines are the fact that a referendum subject tends to be controversial, the relationship between referendums and direct democracy and the implications of the results.


This chapter assesses what politicians and members of political parties really care about: getting into office on the back of a successful election campaign. Rather than the general determinants of voting outlined in the previous chapter, this is about the choices voters and parties face within a particular system, so they can organize themselves to win. For that they need to play by the rules of the game, which includes developing strategies within electoral systems. The chapter then discusses the impact of electoral systems on that calculus, and how the number of parties is affected by the electoral system in place. It also looks at the factors that assist the winning of elections, and the extent to which the choices of parties and voters are affected by growing instability in the system. Overall, the chapter provides an overview of British political parties and party systems.


This chapter looks at the changing nature of ideology in Europe. It also delves into the issue of voter preference and considers how that has changed over time. It is all too often assumed that voters, as well as parties, exist along a single ideological left-to-right continuum. However, the truth is that there more deviations from this continuum than we might have in the past assumed. With the emergence of new salient issues, such as immigration, the environment and European integration, the old assumptions no longer hold true. The chapter also looks at populism, which it defines as a thin-central ideology. The final questions of this chapter are: how has populism challenged our current model of democracy? What does the future hold in this regard?


Christian Welzel and Ronald Inglehart

This chapter examines the role that the concept of political culture plays in comparative politics. In particular, it considers how the political culture field increases our understanding of the social roots of democracy and how these roots are transforming through cultural change. In analysing the inspirational forces of democracy, key propositions of the political culture approach are compared with those of the political economy approach. The chapter first provides an overview of cultural differences around the world, before tracing the historical roots of the political culture concept. It then tackles the question of citizens’ democratic maturity and describes the allegiance model of the democratic citizen. It also explores party–voter dealignment, the assertive model of the democratic citizen, and political culture in non-democracies. It concludes with an assessment of how trust, confidence, and social capital increase a society’s capacity for collective action.


Ian McAllister and Stephen White

This chapter examines the most visible and politically important act of conventional citizen participation: turning out to vote in a national election. Patterns of political participation are influenced by a variety of institutional factors, such as the type of electoral system and the number of political parties in a country, along with individual socioeconomic factors such as a person’s educational attainments or income. A particular problem in many previously authoritarian societies is the absence of a diverse civil society, so that the social trust upon which a healthy democracy depends is often absent. The chapter first considers various dimensions of political participation before discussing voter turnout in democratic countries. It then analyses the effects of institutional arrangements such as election rules, the type of electoral system, and the party system on political participation. Finally, it describes some of the factors that determine whether or not citizens participate in politics.


Catherine E. De Vries, Sara B. Hobolt, Sven-Oliver Proksch, and Jonathan B. Slapin

Foundations of European Politics introduces important tools of social science and comparative analysis. The first part of the book acts as an introduction to the topic, looking at democratic politics and multilevel politics in Europe. The second part moves on to citizens and voters, considering issues related to ideology and voting decisions. Part III looks at elections and introduces electoral systems and direct democracy, representation, political parties, and party competition. The next part is about government and policy. The last part looks at the rule of law, democracy, and backsliding.